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The countryside, very much like our garden, is unkempt. This year many of the hedges and meadows have been left to grow and flourish, wildflowers abound and there is an explosion of colour (deep yellow yarrow, lavender-blue chicory and pale pink mallows galore) and overgrown hedgerows. Our garden too has turned into some kind of wild nature reserve, places are impassable as the flowers battle with the grasses. The reason for this rewilding is not the same for both places. In the countryside the folk have definitely stayed at home; fields that normally would have been cut back by now have been abandoned to nature so that strange new wildflowers we have never seen before have emerged and we have to duck under bushes on our dog walks. This is all simply because the local Portuguese have taken the strict observance of mask wearing and social distancing to heart, and they have been nervous to venture too far from their homes. No surprise really as most of them are on their last legs.

We however, have other reasons. One is that the bother of strimming and ‘keeping on top of it all’ has become increasingly challenging. The second is that we want to have as much wildlife as possible in the garden and leaving areas untouched seems the way forward. The idea is to let nature take care of itself. We are alarmed by the shortage of bugs, and therefore bats and birds, and are doing our bit to help out. We have had a renewed interest in the flora and fauna of Casa Azul and are delighted we have a couple of greenfinches nesting in the plane tree in the courtyard now.

One benefit has been I don’t need to stroll around the neighbouring fields to find the plants I need for dyeing, they are all in our garden now!

It looks charming in a sort of run down cottage garden kind of way. No idea how it will all look over the next few weeks. Meanwhile in the veg patch good and bad news. A real disaster with my Sicilian broccoli and cauliflower which was a bit depressing considering how much time and effort I put into those, the cucumber plugs I bought have turned into water melons (don’t ask) and all the flowers of one set of toms, also bought as plugs, have all simply died. Anyway, on a happier note we have green beans, or rather stripey red beans galore, and the bush toms are well on their way…

plus loads of brightly coloured courgettes:

Richard was pleased that the chicken lady at the local market had returned so we have another batch of ‘roasties’ enjoying the sun. Skittle and co are fine as are the dogs. So all’s well here and hope it is with your and yours. Stay safe.

The heat and the dust

The heat and the dust

So let’s start with the bad news: 61 dead, so far, in the worst forest fires in Portugal for many years. Fires continue to blaze since Saturday in some places and new ones pop up all the time. The firefighters are exhausted, their heroism is extraordinary. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures and videos yourselves. Despite this we count ourselves as exceedingly lucky. We have the smoke, the ash, the drone of the helicopters, the intense heat of a 40° sun but we are safe and sound. Until the weekend I was lamenting the fact that the temperatures were affecting the vegetables but now I realise losing some of this year’s crop is nothing compared to those who have lost all.

It’s been very hot, of course, for the chickens, all three batches. The ‘roasties’ seem to suffer the most, sitting panting on the ground dipping the beaks into the water. Ah well, Richard is sharpening his knife so they won’t be suffering for much longer! The new hens, we are really pleased to say, are continuing to grow well. The eldest black one laid her first egg 27 May and has since been laying every day; perfect, nut brown eggs.

Many years ago, we saw that one of the fields allocated to the hens had little shade midday so we planted a couple of lime trees. It gives me great joy to see our new hens sitting under them, exactly as planned!

The veg patch is bursting with growth, somewhat curtailed by the heat, but battling it out. Far too many crops to mention here but we are eating the cucumbers, a little celery, the parsley, the runner beans and I’ve already pickled a jar of gherkins. Oh, and the courgettes of course.

The sweetcorn should be ready soon and some of the many tomatoes too.

Fruitwise we are eating the raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries. Having our own eggs again means ice cream is back on the menu so we’ve had some delicious gooseberry and elderflower ice cream. The neighbours’s peach tree put on a good show again for us too.

We are really hoping for a bumper crop of plums. Alas, our Stanley plum tree has died – such a shame when we had so many last year and they were just so delicious. The redcurrant almost died, a few twigs left only, and the blackcurrant also died. At the end of the day some things can cope with the freezing temps (remember it went down to -6° quite a few nights over the winter) and blistering heat, and others can’t. The red and yellow plums, damsons and greengages will make up for that we’re sure.

Meanwhile, back in the courtyard, it’s looking lovely since being painted and the pink against the blue is surprisingly striking. Just a shame it’s too hot to sit outside and enjoy it – ha!

Finally, the most important things in our lives are also fine. Less lively in the heat…

…but thankful for the cool of the outdoor ponds.

Richard has just come in from watering the garden. He says there are more helicopters over the valley from us and a new fire has broken out. With the summer just starting these are certainly unsettling times.

The waiting game

The waiting game


We are waiting. We are waiting for the buds to open, for the leaves to unfold, for the blossom to burst forth and for the clouds to disappear. We are waiting for the meadows to be blanketed with wildflowers. What a wet spring! A real damp squib of a season. Drizzles, downpours and drenches. Enough, no more. ‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before. The tulips have failed to become a mini Keukenhof in a pot, the forsythia (which was a huge flaming bush of gold last year) has only a smattering of flowers and the pond has almost overflowed, at least the frogs are happy. So don your wellies and come down to the veg patch and see what’s happening there.

Actually, not a lot! There are beds of yellow and red onions, not looking toooo bad but the garlic has suffered terribly and I fear has rotted in the mud despite being in raised beds. There are things growing though and we are eating some home grown stuff, including the purple sprouting broccoli:


We are also eating the asparagus on a daily basis. Other crops are growing, some peas have somehow come through the wet weather and have pods on.


But the most dramatic crop is the fava, or broad beans. They’ve gone mad! They have never been too successful and I put the blame on buying English seeds. So, having had a good trial run last year, I sowed a whole load of seeds bought locally. The packet suggested putting 3 in a hole. Well, perhaps I should’ve thinned them because everything germinated and grew and grew. The wind and hailstones from the winter knocked everything over but they simply grew again with twisted stems. Onwards and upwards. They are taller than me, really. Should you have staked them, Richard asks. Imagine!


They have fallen over the paths and carried on growing, it’s impossible to walk past them. The triffid bean.  We’ve picked a few of the pods but they need to grow more as the beans were rather small inside but I have no doubt, once the sun does come out properly, that we will have fava beans until the cows come home.

Which is just as well as there is only one bed that has been planted this year. That’s where you can find the runner beans and the calabrese.  The former is very slow indeed, struggling to climb up the poles but the latter are doing well, hurrah.


Otherwise most of the empty beds have been dug over and remulched with cardboard, grass,  straw and or compost. I’m determined to keep both the moisture and the goodness in. (I am ignoring the fact that the voles have returned). Previous years these have been full of little plants but this year I’m waiting. There are a few things in pots in the polytunnel also waiting, including courgettes and, a first for me, some gherkins.

Anyway, ending on a positive note the wait for the nightingales is over, they arrived a few days ago. Let’s hope their song brings spring as well as a mate.

Second spring?

Second spring?


It’s been a surprisingly busy month, this October. Where to start? Well, with mostly sunny days we’ve been able to do lots of gardening, walking and harvesting. So into the veg patch first and, hurrah, things are definitely looking up. The cauliflowers and broccoli which I’d said had failed have in fact done very well. After cutting off the rather pathetic broccoli heads there have been loads of side shoots which will keep coming over the weeks ahead. And the cauliflower has, after months and months, decided it will grow after all.


So at the moment we have those two crops, plus squash, sprouts and the last of the runner beans. We will start on the leeks now and we’re looking forward to trying the jerusalem artichokes, a first for us in the veg patch. Slightly worried about their side effects and their nickname fartichokes… The horseradish which I’d said had gone rotten has also completely come back to life so that’ll be dug up soon too.

Meanwhile the chooks have kept us busy. We moved the hens from one patch to another, where we have a spare coop, as they’d scratched up all the grass. They are still giving us 3 or so eggs a day. And we bought some more ‘roasties’. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get any more ducklings. The man in the market didn’t have any and as far as I could understand he wasn’t going to get any more because there wasn’t the demand. Hoping I’m wrong about that but if not will have to look elsewhere, the duck we had for Christmas last year was great. Instead of ducklings we got 6 white chicks which I’m not a big fan of, they grow much fatter more quickly than the brown ones (we got 8 of those) but become quite pathetic as they put on weight and struggle to walk. They seem to be enjoying the green grass in the meantime.


We are lucky to have a quince tree in the garden, for some reason there are no others in the village. It was a good harvest for them and we have made loads of quince jelly, quince cordial, quince crumble (made with star anise this has become Richard’s fave dessert) and frozen some batches as well. The chillies too have been made into jam, oil or just dried.


The springlike weather has also been great for the wild flowers. We discovered this tiny little orchid on a walk and then were delighted to find it growing near the house. The common name is autumn lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) so that’ll have to go on our orchids page. We also have autumn crocuses in the garden too.


The hedgerows have been fooled by the temperatures. The blackthorn, where we get our sloes from, is in flower and in the veg patch the autumn raspberries are half a metre tall when they should be dormant.


However, the big task of the month has been the olive harvest so it’s been lovely having the springlike sunshine for that. The garden seems to be full of robins who sing while we work. The dogs too always join us and are happy to supervise, although after a while slink off to the sofa or in search of walnuts.


Last year’s spring deluge meant we had no olives at all in 2014 but this year’s bumper harvest meant it was fairly easy to get enough for the year ahead. After a few days we’d collected 188kg of olives and we got 15 litres of oil for that (the going rate is 8 litres per 100kg). We could have got a lot more. Our neighbour spends weeks collecting his olives, he loves it, but we are rather lazy! He has built this amazing structure which sits on the shovel part of his tractor so that he can be raised up and reach the topmost parts of the trees, it’s a frightening sight as he’s well into his 70s! (While driving to the olive oil factory we lost count of the number of people in their olive trees brandishing loppers or saws.)


He very generously lends us his cleaning machine every year. It separates the leaves and twigs from the olives and despite making a racket does the job quickly and efficiently:

So that was October, I haven’t even mentioned all the strimming Richard’s had to do (and will need to do again soon), the baking, breadmaking etc etc. What have you done this month?


Long, hot summer

Long, hot summer


Of course we wanted to live in a country which had a proper summer but I didn’t expect to live in Death Valley. Oh, stop complaining I can hear you say as the rain hammers against your window, but I can assure you being outside when the temperatures go over 40C really isn’t pleasant. May, June and July were hot too, with no rain to speak of, and the average maximum temperature for this month has been 35C, the highest being 44C. Today it’s 40C. It’s eerily quiet when it’s that hot. The village dogs are all asleep, the tractors, strimmers and chainsaws are put away and the birds are hidden deep in the bushes. The gentle breeze feels like a hot hair drier and, bizarrely, there’s a sense of claustrophobia as the heat engulfs you. We appreciate every day the thick walls of the house, no need for air conditioning, just a cooling glass of grape juice and to collapse, arms akimbo, on the sofa.

peppersThis has, of course, affected the veg patch. The heat has just been too much for so many things. Nothing from the cauliflowers, broccoli or buttercup squash. A poor show (after a good start) from the first batch of beans, aubergines, tomatoes and butternut squash. But mustn’t grumble! We have had loads of cucumbers, enough courgettes, sweetcorn from the second batch just as nice as the first lot, melons, runner beans and, for star prize, the peppers have been amazing. Red, green or yellow, Spanish padròn or chillies – they’ve all been fab. Three cheers for the peppers! (Richard has made three lots of delicious harissa.)

Meanwhile the leeks will be okay for the autumn and, fingers crossed, the sprouts too so not the end of the world. My biggest disappointment though is the tomatoes and aubergines, I really would’ve thought they would cope with the heat. I have managed to make a few batches of ratatouille and tomato passata for the months to come but not the amount as from previous years. I have a sneaky feeling that the lack of mulch hasn’t helped. I resisted doing that this sproutsyear because of the vole problem, they like nothing more than sneaking around the plants unseen (and then eating the roots) but once I’d realised they’d gone I didn’t add any. Live and learn.

On a more positive note the figs are going to be great again, we’ve already had many honey-flavoured fruit. We’ve also picked loads of blackberries and grapes, I think Richard is planning on making some country wine. Soon we’ll be opening the elderberry wine from last year that has been silently waiting under the stone stairs. The sloes have also been picked to make our favourite winter tipple.

Meanwhile I’m off to perfect my rain dance, it really isn’t good enough yet…


The sun has got his hat on

The sun has got his hat on

The rain has decided to have a holiday and it’s been sun, sun, sun. This means mornings are spent watering the veg patch and evenings watering the garden. The well is still surprisingly full but with no rain forecast for the next ten days that’ll soon disappear.

I have finally discovered what has survived the relentless winter frosts. A week or two ago I would have said everything except the bougainvillea but even that now has new shoots. However, along with some of the lavender that is looking very sorry for itself, I fear we’re going to have to make some replacements. But overall I’m pleased that we didn’t really lose anything, even the lily in the pond has lots of leaves.

lettuceFrost-wise all survived in the veg patch too, even the runner beans that lost their first leaves are now climbing their poles. Another plant to survive the frosts are the lettuce. I bought a collection of them for one euro and they do very well. They are a fantastic cut-and-come-again plant, I can cut one every day and they’ll have grown back in no time.

But all is not well. One of the first years here I lost a number of brassicas but then boasted in this post from last year that I hadn’t lost any because I’d placed plastic collars around each one. Well, I did that again this year but alas I have already lost quite a few. One day the plants are all perky and the next one will look very droopy. Removing the collar you can see ants have made a nest under the plant although I don’t think it’s the ants themselves which are attacking the plant.  There are moths that lay eggs around the base of the plant, which is what the collar is meant to prevent, but ants help them, like they do the aphids, because they eat their larvae, which in turn eat the plant. Something like that.  I’ve tried to clear the stems of any bugs but they never look very good again. Very annoying.

The asparagus is enormous, and we have two beds of it. I wish I’d known how large they grow although in the intense summer heat they provide some welcome shelter. I have had to severely trim them all, it was impossible to walk past them.


Richard has been away and was due back yesterday but a cancelled flight means he’s back a day later. He has two jobs waiting for him: strimming and killing. The garden is becoming like the wild meadow from the previous post, sort of shabby chic with all the flowers, charmingly scruffy (actually a bit of a mess!)


The dogs will be pleased to see Richard but the roasties are making the most of the delay. Fat and lazy, they waddle around on huge legs, a far cry from their baby selves. There is one cock among them who has started a very pitiful crowing – he’ll be the first for the chop!


Finally, continuing with the floral theme, I have been busy doing inside jobs once it gets too hot outside. I have made some more soap with marigold flowers and, my favourite, some elderflower cordial. I’ve discovered another old house in the village with a large elder tree in the courtyard that catches the morning sun. How I’ve missed them both I don’t know. The flowers smell wonderful and the cordial is really the taste of summer. Oh, and I’ve made some strawberry ice cream too, we already have a bumper crop!


Time to sit in the garden with a glass of cordial topped up with fizzy water to enjoy the flowers (and ignore the weeds). Cheers!





The colour purple

The colour purple

From the veg patch we have the first of the purple sprouting broccoli joining the asparagus:


In the countryside the early purple orchids (orchis mascula) are out and, if you look in the dappled light along walkways, tiny dog-violets (viola riviniana) are hiding:


Win some, lose some

Win some, lose some


We have a friend who sometimes says on her Facebook page that she has lost a day. Well, for me I lost a whole month. I mean, where did February go? January seemed endless and yet here we are mid-March. The horta, however, has not weeded or pruned itself so I must have done something down there! Richard recently strimmed everywhere and it does look so much better, with lots of cleared, empty beds waiting to be filled.

horseradishBut, as always in the gardening world, it’s win some, lose some. I dug up the horseradish recently. It has never done really well, and no fear of it spreading, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised to discover that the roots had gone rotten. It was just beginning to sprout but there was nothing edible. It seems to be one of the easiest plants to grow but, unlike most of the plants I shove in the ground, it wasn’t happy. There is a slight dip in the ground where it was planted and despite the good drainage perhaps it just got too much water. Ah well. I did manage to save a couple of small roots that looked okay and have put them elsewhere. We’ll see.

broccoliSo on a more positive note the asparagus is shooting up, a mixture of great stocky stalks and thin lanky stems, all very tasty though. Plus, although I have always known that broccoli (calabrese) gives out extra shoots having had the main stalk cut, I hadn’t realised how long they do this for, and just how big the off-shoots become. We have been eating from plants put in the garden from the summer, a real cut-and-grow-again veg.

Meanwhile the temperatures are hitting the high 20s, during the day of course. But those lovely clear skies are still giving us frosts at night, and more than just ground frost. This has meant every evening all the seedlings have to be put away at night, not a small task now that most things have germinated and been potted on. We bought one set of plugs, some beans, and I chose to leave those out. Well, the outer leaves have been frost bitten, I’m just hoping they’ll be okay. Then of course every morning out everything comes again. There’s something very exciting about this time of the year though, all those little seedlings bursting through the soil. I look at a tiny purple sprouting broccoli and glance over at the four sown last year, over a metre tall and almost ready to eat, and am always amazed.

Oh and we have also bought some more ‘roasties’ and 4 more ducklings, but they’re another story…


Highs and lows…

Highs and lows…

…ups and downs, swings and roundabouts. Whatever way you look at it the first of the ‘summer’ months has been erratic: from over 30C and then down to single figures at night, glorious baking hot sunshine  (too hot for breakfast outside) and then cold, drizzly days with autumn mists. There are field mushrooms popping up! The well is full! Tomorrow is July and the forecast is 19C and rain! Climate change? Who knows but it’s certainly meant losses and gains in the veg patch.

Starting with the positive it’s been great for the soft fruit. Our red currants, gooseberries, black currants and raspberries have given us bumper crops. The gooseberries, along with the elderflower cordial, were turned into jam and ice cream. The rest have been flash frozen (or are being, the raspberries and black currants are still coming) and then packed into bags for future jellies, jams and cakes.


I’m sure the blueberries tasted nice but only the birds can tell. The plums, that we moaned about last year (not one!), are dripping from the trees. The first of the yellow plum jams have been made, with a dash of vanilla this year, and there’s a weekend of bottling ahead. The cucumbers, sweetcorn and green peppers have been unaffected, and there are plenty of onions and garlic again. This year I decided to have a go at flash freezing the garlic as last years crop lasted well into the spring but then started to sprout. So this year only half are being dried and the rest, as an experiment, are in the freezer.

All sounds tip top. But then the potatoes… in fact they did ok but I chose, perhaps not unreasonably, a warm morning to dig them up. Which then turned into a boiler and I left them out to dry in the sun. The next day many had turned black, we tried to use them up as quickly as possible (freezer is now also full of potato cakes) but alas many were destined for the compost bin having got rotten before we could use them. Well, you learn by your mistakes.


The brassicas loved the rain. Huge great cauliflowers, enormous cabbages and giant calabrese started to appear. But then the leaves got bigger and bigger and, as the song goes, “if I only had a heart”. I peered in through the foliage hoping for a glimpse of something not leaflike – nothing.

collarEventually, we did get some cauliflowers and calabrese but really quite small which was so disappointing. Especially as this year I remembered to put plastic collars around the base of them all to keep egg-laying moths away (which worked brilliantly, I didn’t lose a single plant). I’m still hoping that the sprouts, which form later in the year, and the purple sprouting broccoli, which we get next year, will be ok. Not sure how much more patience to have with the cabbages, and I really wanted some of those mammoth lombardy heads like we’ve seen others growing. At least the smaller cauliflower heads were put to good use, as along with some of our beans, courgettes, onions etc there are now 4 jars of piccalilli in the pantry too.


And it seems crazy that July is tomorrow and we haven’t had any toms yet. Last month all the plants were doing well, especially the roma ones sown in January, and by mid June there were loads of green toms. And there are still loads of green toms. Only green. And perhaps most worrying is that many of the new flowers above have fallen off unfertilised. We have both noticed the lack of insects in general this year. In fact, amazingly, the purple sprouting broccoli from early spring came and went without a single, horrid grey aphid in sight. We haven’t put the fly curtains on the doors yet. As for honey bees: nada. The bumble bees are happy with the buddleia and lavender but really very few flying creatures to marvel at and be bothered by. Perhaps when summer really does arrive…

Meanwhile, the countryside is still lovely and green and full of wild flowers. Even the field next door which was sprayed has bounced back with poppies and chicory. So the toms and peppers can wait, there’s plenty of courgettes and chard and beans to keep us going. And it’s perfect walking weather too 🙂


Hooray for May

Hooray for May

Well, hardly a mention of the veg patch and growing things so far this year but rest assured it’s been a busy time sowing, transplanting, mulching, planting, weeding etc etc over the last few months. This morning the first courgette flower was out and that for me is a sign that the growing season has really kicked in and the munching season is not far behind. I’d taken a photo of the beds on the 29 April and already, just over two weeks later, there’s a big difference:


And here you can see how the sweetcorn, chard and sprouts have enjoyed the sunshine:


The asparagus, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli have all gone (plus most of the artichokes) but waiting in the wings now are more brassica (loads of cabbage for some reason,  calabrese, cauliflower) plus beans, onions and garlic. The potatoes have pale purple flowers. There’s aubergines, buttercup squash and melons planted too. Oh, and some carrots.

Along with the baby courgettes there are tiny toms appearing (the comfrey fertilizer should be ready for them soon), weeny cucumbers and minuscule peppers. And for dessert they’ll be gooseberries, plums, raspberries and red currants before long:


It’s always a nice time, it’s still sort of green, the heat hasn’t become too oppressive and there’s the excitement of a good crop of nourishing things to eat. I was feeling rather pleased with myself as I looked over the beds today until I saw what a mess the potting shed is but I just can’t face sorting that out now. I’d failed to clear it out at the end of last summer because of a huge wasp nest. They tried loads of times to make a new one this season but I put an end to that.


A little pat on the back for me too as I won a couple of prizes at an agricultural show. Not a good time of the year for showing veg but the lemon cake with borage flowers, and a trio of preserves did well:


So it’s all coming up roses, or rather dandelions, at the mo 🙂